I have memories of athletic successes and failures spanning six decades. My favorite memory took place in the finish chute of the city championship in cross country in 1975. The city was Los Angeles and that included over 100 high schools with a combined high school enrollment in excess of 140,000 students. Following a progression of league, district and semifinal meets over the preceding weeks the finals had been whittled down to a starting field of just over one hundred runners on a cold Saturday morning in December.
After crossing the line and securing my place in the finish chute I was clutching the Popsicle stick that indicated my finishing place. I looked ahead a few spots at my teammate Todd who was looking back at me. He was clinging to the chute rails, his chest heaving. I could tell he had given everything he had and his eyes met mine and his wordless expression asked if I had done the same. I matched his stare and nodded toward Todd. I grimaced as I looked behind me in the chute a few places and saw my teammate Scott had just finished. We had the same silent exchange. He too had left it all on the course.
(Scott's stunt double)
The feeling of looking a teammate in the eye and sharing an acknowledgment that both of us had done all we could cemented a bond I had not experienced on any team in my young life. More satisfying than knowing I had done my best on that day was the comradery we shared as seven teenagers who had given everything they had for each other. Not just that one day, but in the weeks and months leading up to it we had trained together and pushed each other and pulled one another. We were a youthful band of brothers.
We won the championship that day by a single point. If any one of us had lost a single finishing place we would have finished second. It was a true team victory by the thinnest of margins. In the forty years since I have given away every trophy I ever received except this one.
For the past six months my Europe-bound brothers and I have ridden together in the rain and sun. We have also logged many miles in solo efforts and we have trained with those who can’t join us in Europe. What we do have in common is the knowledge of the commitment and sacrifice we have made in order to share the perverse pleasure of riding hundreds of kilometers and climbing thousands of meters in a far off land.
As one of my teammates pointed out back in 2011 one man’s heaven is another man’s hell. If we are prepared this should be on the heavenly side of the equation.
My heart sincerely goes out to Big John and El Chefe who can’t make this trip. With the utmost respect to those guys and all those we will leave behind I do look forward to sharing an acknowledgment, albeit an unspoken one, that we have all worked hard to prepare. Like many things we all have our own individual stories that are unique until viewed from a distance then the stories are the same. Our preparation wasn’t done in an attempt to best our brothers, but to keep up with them.
Besides my understanding is we get to eat pizza every night.